The Format: Live at the Mayan Theatre [DVD]

As far as intimate live concerts captured on DVD go, it’s hard to top this -- a live show done right and with absolutely no creative restraint.

The Format

Live at the Mayan Theatre

MPAA rating: N/A
Label: Nettwerk
UK Release Date: Available as import
US Release Date: 2007-11-13
Artist website

So named because they feel the corporate music industry pressures bands too hard to adhere to a cookie-cutter format for a hit, The Format is a band that spends their spare time showing the love to their fans rather than chasing radio gold. A few months ago they were kind enough to post their second album, Dog Problems, in its entirety for free download from their official websites, and if anyone was in doubt of their generosity after that, they’ve followed it up with a one-two punch of repackaged material to end the year. One-half of the double release is B-Sides & Rarities (after only two albums, no less!); the other, uncut footage of the band on stage, Live at the Mayan Theatre.

As far as intimate concerts captured on DVD go, it’s hard to top this gift of love, not only because of the idea behind it (the box is set out so humbly, it seems unthinkable to suggest it was put onto shelves with anything but best intentions), but also the careful, meticulous presentation, and the band’s radiant, memorable performance. This is a live show done right and with absolutely no creative restraint. All six members are there fiddling with their instruments, with support provided by a backing section consisting of a handful of string and brass musicians reading off scores. There’s a full-sized, genuine piano, a slide guitar, and keyboards on both sides of the stage, to name just a few of the extravagances.

Such elaborate, some might say old-fashioned, grandeur might seem less impressive than it really is, particularly as I’m accurately trying to communicate it through text in cyberspace, but a viewing of Live at the Mayan Theatre makes it abundantly clear that not only is everybody playing all these different things and not screwing up the whole, but the stage isn’t completely packed, smothering the aesthetic value of the set. Ranting aside, it all clicks into place somehow, and voila! -- a modern-day stage show of Queen-esque proportions. Except the band has only two albums to go off, so they again treat their fans by performing Dog Problems, their second record, start to finish, in order, bringing to life what they describe as a ‘theatrical concept record’.

To add to the charm, it’s intentionally produced like an old Beatles movie, opening with traditional film credits over the band’s daylight rehearsal, and a psychedelic art design that instantly draws to mind the Fab Four. Even more awesomely, they all dress in scruffy collared suits with matching ties. Full marks for attention to detail.

Of course, The Format is really the Nate Ruess show, the camera training its focus on the vocalist’s face time and time again like a beacon. This is arguably unfair to all else, and if think you’ll get sick of staring into his anguished puppy-eyes in yet another close-up then you’re going to be one disgruntled viewer, but the other members are very good sports about it, swelling intuitively with his outbursts and emotions and just simply grooving with the music. They appeared to be enjoying the experience at the very least whenever this writer got a decent glance at them, which is saying a lot. They could have stood there stiffly and looked bored. They also take the stage with local Arizona unknowns Reuben’s Accomplice for one song (“Pick Me Up”), drawing parallels to Nirvana’s classic Unplugged in New York (whether intentionally or not). For what it’s worth the song, an unassuming number from Dog Problems, is really enhanced in its duet form; sweetly harmonized, with about four guitars boosting the accompaniment beyond what was probably necessary.

The theatre glows with The Format’s uplifting, feel-good presence, and as a viewer you start to get the sense that you’re hanging off Nate Ruess’ every word. See the range of feelings he brings to “Dog Problems” within five minutes, for example. Their major-key mini-opus reverberates off the walls, highlighting the boundlessly jubilant bubble they conjure around themselves, and if anything, a stark lack of band-crowd interaction. The closest Live at the Mayan gets is an audience and whole band singalong to “Inches and Falling”. This doesn’t change how enthralling it is to watch them play live, and how much more of their music there is to connect with onstage; new dimensions are opened, nuances found where there previously was only studio bombast.

At a track count of 21 songs, it can be a long slog for non-fans along the way, but there’s no way you could accuse The Format of not catering to variety in the meantime. If you’ve never heard the band, pick up Dog Problems and this DVD will serve as a fine accompaniment, plus a few favorites: the heart-on-stage throb of ballad “On Your Porch” is so effortless and emotional it’s painful to watch, new song “Swans” comes over excellent late in the set, a piano-based number about (literally) sailing away, and the immortal “The First Single”, their breakout which remains their trademark and best song. What’s more, an extra documentary (ironically titled ‘If Work Permits’) brings further insight into the charming concept of a complicated relationship disintegration that is behind the original album’s inception.


From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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